It’s late winter/early spring, the weather is biting cold, and you’re desperate for a family getaway but unable to pull the trigger for one reason or another. That was my family last week. But a last-minute decision saved the day and bought us more “health.”
March and April are cruel months. By now, the novelty of winter has faded, the cold trembles our bones, and the paucity of sunlight drapes us in a blood-deep mental cloud. Spring has become a wicked mirage and we curse our position on the globe relative to the sun. We stand in silent (and ridiculous!) protest by refusing to make any meaningful action until such action can be done outside, in our Bermudas, with a cold lager in our hands.
“We must leave the house for spring break,” I said to my husband. Before it kills me. My work-from-home situation heightens this late-winter angst. Long days of computer time trapped inside this four-walled echo chamber conspires against every activity our human bodies evolved for: long-range scanning over wild and scenic plains, sprawling, full-body motions over boulders, river stones, and fallen trees, and the proper use of hands and arms to do real work…such as lifting water pail from the river, carrying wood to make a fire, and stooping low to ferret nuts from the ground.
I love my work, but at this time of year there’s a vital human trapped inside this rigid, rheumatic frame screaming to be let out. I’ve become a reasonable facsimile of myself. My soul rumbles and roars to be real, my body to be free.
I watch my boys and know they, too, suffer. Over the winter months, they gradually become more attached to the indoors, where every tolerable entertainment option requires AC/DC and the pretend use of evolved skills to defeat zombies and aliens. And while they adroitly navigate that world I wonder, what can I do to make their reality less virtual, their forms less avatar, their health less acquired and more innate?
Our family needed a re-set.
Spring break was nigh, but day after day leading up to it, we were stumped on where to go and what to do. Our schedules and budget afforded us only two nights away by car. We decided that any natural location with decent lodging within a three-hour drive was fair game. We traded dozens of ideas and none seemed to work out for one reason or another.
So it came to be that last Wednesday we went to bed not knowing where in the world our family of four would travel to the next morning. And though such last-minute planning might rankle some and defeat others, we pushed on and made plans, thanks to the damn computer box I was seeking refuge from. A Google maps search of “state park lodges” pulled up more than a dozen options in Ohio, Pennsylvania (PA), and New York. When my husband suggested a cabin in Allegheny National Forest, I looked a little closer at northern Pennsylvania and discovered The Pennsylvania Wilds.
After clicking one destination flag after another in northwestern PA, I came across “The Nature Inn” located on “Warbler Way” in “Bald Eagle State Park” in the Pennsylvania Wilds. Are you kidding me?
I booked a basic suite in three seconds flat and we were on our way by 9:30 am.
The mountainous region of northwestern PA contains millions of acres of unspoiled state and national forestlands, state parks, and charming Appalachian communities. Once checked in at the Inn, we headed straight to into nature, where we saw a Ruffed Grouse cross the road in full sunlight; American Woodcocks in dueling courtship displays; a feverish flock of Eastern Bluebirds; and Red-winged Blackbirds take back a marsh. We watched Tree Swallows command nest boxes and Bald Eagles feed nestlings.
We four-wheeled our SUV to the summit of Hyner View for inspiring views of the scenic country below. We borrowed a dip net and turned up salamanders and dragonfly larvae from ponds and vernal pools.
And we observed one of the largest herds of elk east of the Mississippi.
Instead of getting a thumb workout defeating zombies, my kids ran with full abandon to the shoreline, climbed over rocks, skipped stones, traversed small streams, and kicked the dirt. They lifted binoculars and borrowed my long-lens camera.
They discovered a pool bursting with tadpole eggs and listened to spring’s first peepers and wood frogs. They chose to sit beside me for a nocturnal insect presentation at our lodge. Nature’s promise of infinite discovery had infused them.
Just a few days of exploring the wilds of Pennsylvania opened our minds and bodies and made our pallor less pronounced. A quick interruption of regular programming was all we needed.
Sometimes, the cure to soullessness comes exactly when and how you need it. Just lift your chin and scan the plains for your next opportunity. Determine your acceptable driving distance, set a budget (no matter how small), and get away, now, before the walking dead annihilate your avatar.
Disclosure: The Nature Inn provided us with a discounted room rate.